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U.S. warns of potential terrorist attacks abroad, at home

bin Laden threat

December 14, 1998
Web posted at: 7:40 p.m. EST (0040 GMT)

In this story:

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- U.S. officials said Monday they won't rule out the possibility that terrorists may be planning to attack Americans both in the United States and in the Middle East.

The U.S. State Department warned U.S. diplomats and citizens in seven Gulf states about a potential attack on U.S. targets, possibly in the next 30 days.

Deputy spokesman James Foley said the warning was "based on information we deem to be credible and serious."

The new threat applies to Kuwait, Oman, United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Bahrain and Yeman, according to the State Department.

Osama bin Laden
Osama bin Laden  

U.S. law enforcement officials also are taking seriously new reports that suspected terrorist Osama bin Laden may be preparing to attack Americans in New York or Washington, D.C., according to reports from intelligence agencies.

One law enforcement source told CNN that such reports are usually routine but they are now being treated with additional caution because of recent arrests of bin Laden followers and the U.S. cruise missile strikes on his training camps in Afghanistan.

Those strikes followed the bombing of U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania, for which bin Laden has been charged.

A counterintelligence official told CNN he is "not aware of any specific, credible evidence pointing to a threat" to targets in those two U.S. cities.

However, the official said, "there is no doubt the capability and intent are there" for the bin Laden group to strike against a U.S. target somewhere in the world.

An attack in the near future "can't be ruled out," the official also said.

Anti-terrorist training exercises

In October, the Justice Department staged a mock training exercise using the scenarios of a chemical weapons strike on a Washington Redskins football game, a car bomb attack and the bombing of a federal building, senior law enforcement officials told CNN.

Those exercises were not specific to bin Laden, the sources said, but he is the focus of an intense worldwide investigation.

Two bin Laden associates have been arrested in the United States and investigators are continuing to watch several other suspected followers of bin Laden, sources said.

Americans abroad 'easier' targets

U.S. officials believe that an attack against a target outside the United States is more likely because it would be "much easier."

Spokesman Foley refused Monday to be specific about any overseas threat or to say if Washington believed bin Laden might be behind the reported U.S. threat.

But Foley implied that any U.S.-related facility -- private or governmental -- could be at risk in the seven Gulf countries covered by the warning issued Monday.

"All American citizens should remain alert to any suspicious activity and take precautionary steps to reduce the profile and vulnerability of any U.S. facilities," Foley read from the message.

"Americans should maintain a low profile, vary routes and times for all required travel and treat mail from unfamiliar sources with suspicion," the message continued.

The State Department said U.S. ambassadors in the seven Gulf states have been asked to review security at their embassies, but Foley was unaware if any American diplomatic personnel were being withdrawn from the region.

Correspondents Pierre Thomas, David Ensor, Peter Bergen, Producer Sharona Schwartz and Reuters contributed to this report.

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